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Circulation of the blood|
Most people believe that the circulation of the blood in the body was discovered by William Harvey, and that it was he who first brought the idea to the attention of the world when he published his discovery in 1628. Harvey was, however, not even the first European to recognize the concept, and the Chinese had made the discovery two thousand years before.
In Europe, Harvey was anticipated by Michael Servetus (1546), Realdo Colombo (1559), Andrea Cesalpino (1571) and Giordano Bruno (1590). These men had read of the circulation of the blood in the writings of an Arab of Damascus, al-Nafis (died 1288), who himself seems to have obtained the idea from China. The writings of al-Nafis translated into Latin were lost, and rediscovered by a scholar as recently as 1956, establishing the source for Europe.
In China, indisputable and voluminous textual evidence exists to prove that the circulation of the blood was an established doctrine by the second century BC at the latest. For the idea to have become elaborated by this time, however, into the full and complex doctrine that appears in The Yellow Emperor's Manual of Corporeal Medicine (China's equivalent of the Hippocratic writings of Greece), the original notion must have appeared a very long time previously. It is safe to say that the idea occurred in China about two thousand years before it found acceptance in the West.
The ancient Chinese conceived of two separate circulations of fluids in the body. Blood, pumped by the heart, flowed through the arteries, veins and capillaries. Ch'i, an ethereal, rarefied form of energy, was pumped by the lungs to circulate through the body in invisible tracts. The concept of this dual circulation of fluids was central to the practice of acupuncture.
The Chinese traditionally identified twenty-eight different types of pulse, which they recognized as emanating from the pumping heart. The entire view of the body and its functioning was that of a dual circulation theory of blood (which was yin) and ch'i (which was yang). The two were interrelated. As a text dating from about the time of Christ says: 'The flow of the blood is maintained by the ch'i, and the motion of the ch'i depends on the blood; thus coursing in mutual reliance they move around.' The Yellow Emperor's Manual says: 'The function of the tract-channel system of the human body is to promote a normal passage [circulation] of the blood and the ch'i, so that the vital essentials derived from man's food can nourish the yin and yang viscera, sustain the muscles, sinews and bones, and lubricate the joints.'
The Manual also says: 'What we call the vascular system is like dykes and retaining walls forming a circle of tunnels which control the path that is traversed by blood so that it cannot escape or find anywhere to leak away.' The Chinese, always so methodical at measuring and weighing things, carried out investigations in which they removed the blood vessels from corpses, stretched them to their full length, and made measurements of the total distance traveled by the blood in one circuit. This was estimated by these measurements to be 162 feet.
Once every twenty-four hours, the blood circulation and the ch'i circulation 'met' again in the wrist, having completed fifty blood circuits, so that the circulations coincided. The Chinese thus computed that the blood flowed 8 1 00 feet per day. During this time, 13,500 breaths were supposed to take place; this meant that the blood flowed six inches for every breath. By making all these calculations, the Chinese imagined themselves to be pinning down the phenomenon quite comfortably.
The heart was clearly conceived of as pumping the blood. Indeed, Chinese doctors used in their classrooms an extraordinary system of bellows and bamboo tubes to pump liquid in demonstrations for their pupils, showing how the heart and blood circulation worked.
In the calculations of the flow of the blood in the body, each circulation was estimated as taking 28.8 minutes. We know through medical research that this is too slow by sixtyfold, the true time being only thirty seconds. William Harvey had not come to any conclusion about this, speculating that the time taken might be 'half an hour ... an hour, or even ... a day'.
The Dutch East India physician, Willem ten Rhijne, stated in his book of 1685, Mantissa Schematica de Acupunctura, that the circulation of the blood was one of the basic tenets of the whole of Chinese medicine. He wrote: 'The Chinese physicians ... perhaps devoted more effort over many centuries to learning and teaching with very great care the circulation of the blood, than have European physicians, individually or as a group. They base the foundation of their entire medicine upon the rules of this circulation, as if they were oracles of Apollo at Delphi.'
In the very same year, the renowned scholar Isaac Vossius wrote that the Chinese had known of the circulation of the blood for four thousand years. As Needham says: 'He was of course taking the legendary date of the Yellow Emperor. But some two thousand years would have been right enough.' We thus see that three hundred years ago, it was widely realized in Europe that th Chinese had originated the idea of the circulation of the blood. But since that time, Europeans have reverted to a state of ignorance on the subject and forgotten this entirely.